The death notice I posted was a first draft of my mother’s life story, set in the context of essential information about family relationships, funeral and shivah arrangements, and suggested charities for donations in her memory. I gave a eulogy at her funeral, which is a second and more complete draft of her life story. The funeral service itself is posted online, with eulogies also by Irv Ash, husband of my late sister Irene; grand-daughter Adryan Bergstrom-Borins; and Rabbi Yael Splansky of Holy Blossom Temple. Here is the text of my eulogy, slightly expanded from the spoken words.
When Bev celebrated her 100th birthday last June, I wondered what percentage of women born in Canada in 1923 lived to be 100. As a teacher, I would ask the students to guess and give reasons. The answer ls 2 percent, 2 in 100. To be in that select group you needed fortitude, good luck, and a great appetite for life. Bev had all of these, and much more.
Bev was blessed with a keen mind, with diverse talents for persuasion, for storytelling, and for numbers. She had very talented hands for craftwork. She had incredible energy. And she had 20/20 vision all her life and an eagle eye for detail.
An excellent student, Bev intended to go to law school. Her parents could afford to support only one child in university, and she deferred to her older brother Bernie, who became a doctor. (I wrote a Lives Lived column about him a decade ago.) Bev was not resentful, but rather was proud of his accomplishments, and they were close all their lives.
Bev and Sidney Borins met and married in their early twenties. Sid was involved in the hotel business. In postwar Ontario, “hotel business” was a euphemism meaning a tavern with a few rooms on the side to satisfy a puritanical government.
Bev raised three children during the fifties and early Sixties. She devoted her abundant energy to many other things as well. She became president of the parent-teacher association and did numerous handcrafts: copper enameling, then driftwood furniture, and ultimately mosaic tile. Her mosaics were classic Roman style (like those in the Beth Alpha synagogue), with tiny tiles and intricate patterns. Bev’s masterwork was a set of 12 large murals depicting the symbols of the 12 tribes of Israel. They now hang in Baycrest Hospital.
After Sid and his father Harold sold a hotel in Toronto when Harold retired, Bev and Sid bought another one in 1966. But there was nothing royal about The Royal Hotel in Whitby. The previous owner had mismanaged it. There was after-hours drinking and occasional visits by bikers. When Sid stepped back in this situation, Bev stepped up. She turned the business around by establishing a country-and-western theme and being friendly, but firm when necessary, with patrons and staff. She saved our family from financial disaster. An online search revealed that the Royal Hotel has reverted to its previous character, so you could say my parents’ ownership of it from 1966 to 1970 was its brief shining moment.
Bev took the lead in the next business, a boutique named Up the Wall that she started in 1971. In this second act, she was able to express her passion for art and crafts. She sold the weavings, macrame, and fabrics that were popular wall coverings at the time. (The singer-songwriter Carole King called on the same zeitgeist when she titled her 1971 breakthrough album “Tapestry.”) My sister Irene, a talented weaver, became Bev’s artist-in-residence. Young people who travelled “the hippie trail” from the middle East to Asia brought back souvenirs. They went to Bev to sell their souvenirs because she would pay cash, not just offer consignment. But – more than all this – Bev became aware of the artistic renaissance of indigenous Canadians. She reached out to them and began to feature the work of Anishnabe artists, especially Norval Morrisseau. And she started to sell Inuit sculpture and graphics. Soon indigenous art became the focus of her business.
Bev and Sid sold Up the Wall in 1984. Bev continued her passion for Inuit sculpture, buying from the Inuit cooperative here and on trips to Nunavut, and selling out of the house. When her inventory became too big, she made major donations to the University of Toronto and University of Guelph. Returning to her roots as a crafter, she designed and sewed an Inuit parka and several Haida-style button blankets.
Bev gradually evolved from semi-retirement to being a mentor and an elder. In addition to her contemporaries, she had many younger friends who were inspired by her life and experience and to whom she offered her wisdom and advice. They were drawn to her because of her enthusiasm, keen intelligence, and outlook and even voice that were much younger than her years. Up until the last few weeks of her life, her telephone rang as often as a teenager’s.
Cancer was the unwanted guest at her table. Sid died of testicular cancer at age 75 in 1996. Bev survived breast cancer in her sixties and colon cancer in her seventies. Her daughter Irene succumbed to pancreatic cancer at age 68 at the start of the pandemic. At 92, Bev was diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a slowly evolving incurable blood cancer. For her last three years she received bi-weekly and then weekly blood transfusions. My brother Michael skillfully and compassionately coordinated an increasing level of care so that she could stay home to the end.
Bev’s last goal was to live to 100. She received the famous letters from the Governor-General and King, though she was much more impressed by an Innu woman than an overseas monarch. As the benefits of the transfusions diminished, Bev was sleeping more and more. A month ago she decided she had enough and stopped the transfusions.
Bev lived a life that was, in many ways, unconventional. She was a first-wave feminist. In her second act in her late forties she decided to follow her passion. And she enriched the lives of family and friends around her. Bev, you were a woman of valour and your life is a blessing.